EU migration agreement with Tunisia

On July 16, 2023, the European Commission adopted, without consulting the Council and the European Parliament, a migration agreement (âmemorandum of understandingâ) signed with Tunisia. What is wrong with this and why human rights are not in the foreground in this deal, I have among other things explained in the NDR and I would like to explain this once again in detail in this article.

Current situation in Tunisia

Under Acting President Kais Saied, a massive dismantling of democracy in Tunisia. Saied spreads racist slogans, makes blacks the scapegoats of the economic problems in his country, and spreads the right-wing conspiracy theory of the âgreat exchangeâ, claiming that there is a plot afoot, „to change the demographic composition of Tunisia“. This agitation culminated in hunts and pogrom-like riots against black people in Tunisia. 

In the meantime, Tunisian authorities seem to have increasingly systematically abandoned people in the desert and left them to fend for themselves. Thus, only recently a group of over 80 people rescued by Libyan border guardspreviously released by Tunisia in the desert. In the desert of North Africa more people may die than on the Mediterranean SeaHowever, there is much less documented – coordinated rescue missions in the desert do not exist.

According to UNHCR figures Tunisia has replaced Libya as the largest transit country since last year. Since the beginning of 2023 A total of 104,808 protection seekers arrived in Italy by sea. According to Tunisian National Guard data 34,290 people were prevented from fleeing Tunisia from January to the end of June 2023, nearly four times more than in the same period in 2022.

At the same time, the situation for refugees in Tunisia is very bad. There is no functioning asylum system and no other legal framework to protect asylum seekers or to grant residence permits.

Migration cooperation with Tunisia to date 

There is a longstanding cooperation between Tunisia and the EU in the field of migration. In 2012, a Privileged Partnership was established and an Action Plan for the period 2013 to 2017 was adopted. The action plan addressed the protection of asylum seekers and refugees as well as cooperation in the areas of migration, mobility, and security. In parallel, in 2014, a Mobility partnership was established. This should lead to the conclusion of two agreements: the first on readmission and a second on the facilitation of visa formalities.

Negotiations for a readmission agreement between the EU and Tunisia began in 2016. Tunisia has signed and generally respected bilateral readmission agreements with six member states (including Italy, Germany, and Belgium), but they are limited to Tunisian nationals. 

Even the 1998 readmission agreement with Italy, which provides for the repatriation of foreigners, excludes the readmission of third-country nationals from member states of the Arab Maghreb Union to Tunisia.

Already in 2017, Tunisia had rejected the EU’s proposals to âoutsourceâ migration management; Saied also emphasized that Tunisia does not want to become âEurope’s border guardâ. However, the EU has been financing migration measures (for border control) in Tunisia for years, among others through EU Trust Fund for Africa (expiring) and through NDICI – Global Europe. There, the âMulti-countryâ Migration Program for the Southern Neighborhood 2021-2027 2021 allocated 25 million euros to support the development of border management facilities. In particular, for the support of the training infrastructure of the Tunisian Guard Nationale Maritime, support for the establishment of a coordination center for sea rescue and completion of the integrated coastal surveillance system. In addition, EUR 14 million was allocated in 2021 to support the return of Tunisians. Here is a detailed report to this. 

The content of the âdeclaration of intentâ

On June 11, at a Press conference Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (as âTeam Europeâ) presented the planned package of measures during a visit to Tunis, preceded by several visits by various representatives of the EU and its member states in the months before. Von der Leyen underscored the historic partnership between the EU and Tunisia and emphasized the intention to work with Tunisia on a âcomprehensive packageâ that would focus on 5 pillars supports: 

  1. Support economic development Mobilization of up to ⬠900 million for macro-financial assistance (linked to IMF criteria/ IMF loan of 1.9 billion), plus ⬠150 million in immediate budget support (funds that flow directly into the state budget).
  2. Investment and trade – Modernization trade agreements, investment in digital infrastructure etc.
  3. Energy – Production and export of renewable energy (including ELMED cable).
  4. Migration Support for border management and anti-smuggling, sea rescue and repatriation, for which the EU budget will provide â'¬ 105 million in 2023.
  5. âPeople to people contactsâ/ People communication – Measures for exchange and cooperation such as Erasmus+, in the research field, vocational training measures, etc. 

On July 16, the corresponding Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed, which takes up and deepens the above points. The legal status of the MoU is not clear, and the parliament was not involved, which would have been necessary if it were an agreement.

Macrofinancial support

The text does not provide any specific figures on macrofinancial support; more detailed information will be discussed in the third quarter â23.

With regard to cooperation in the field of migration, the following points are primarily mentioned:

  • Irregular migration is to be combated (in line with previous cooperation in the areas of border protection, support for the Tunisian coast guard, combating smuggling), and legal migration routes are to be opened up.
  • Tunisia to be supported in deporting third-country nationals ("irregular migrants") to their countries of origin
  • Development cooperation should aim at combating the causes of flight (e.g. through training measures)
  • Saied's position, already expressed in advance, that Tunisia is not a "host country" and that no border protection is carried out beyond its own borders is reiterated
  • Return measures from the EU refer only to Tunisian nationals, not third-country nationals
  • the EU should support Tunisia in concluding similar bilateral agreements with member states 
  • for all these measures financial support is provided by the EU 

The extent to which these points from the MoU are implemented in practice, what implications they have for the human rights situation in Tunisia, or what priorities are set, cannot yet be answered. There has been no impact assessment with regard to fundamental and human rights, nor has there been an impact assessment with regard to the question of whether the intended goals can be achieved with the corresponding measures.

The further procedure 

According to Article 218 TFEU, international treaties concluded by the EU with third countries require the consent of the European Parliament. A "Memorandum of Understanding" was signed here by the Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy Olivér Várhelyi and the Tunisian Foreign Minister Mounir Ben Rijba. The individual points are then to be implemented in different procedures. In the Interior Committee of the European Parliament on 18.07.23 members of various parliamentary groups have articulated clear doubts and called for a legal opinion to clarify the legal nature of the agreement. This is particularly relevant because it is unclear which decision-making structures will be applied at all and what role Parliament will have in this process.

Also from the Council Legal Service, the European External Action Service, and numerous member state there is said to have been vehement criticismthat the agreement was signed without their consultation, legal action was reserved.
The announced macro-financial assistance of up to €900 million retains, according to so far informal information from the Commission, a successful agreement with the IMF as a precondition and also requires a legal act of the Council and the EP (ordinary legislative procedure). The additionally announced budget support and other measures can be funded from the 2023 budget via various financing instruments, whereby the EP has no formal role in deciding on the specific allocation of funds. However, the procedure and the allocation of funds have so far been so opaque that it is not yet possible to make a final assessment.


Most of the measures in the MoU are not new, nor do they represent a U-turn in cooperation between the EU and Tunisia or the entire southern neighborhood. It is also important that the EU does not turn its back on the Tunisian people, and many of the announced measures, such as the exchange on the inclusion of Tunisia in the Erasmus+ program, are to be supported. However, the de facto linking of financial support against cooperation in the migration sector is critical. Even though according to the MoU human rights standards are to be respected, this is not further defined, and a human rights impact assessment is not foreseen. Experience in Libya, for example, shows that without concrete measures and law enforcement in this area, massive human rights violations can go unpunished in practice, and they also have no influence on the funding of cooperation. It is also questionable how compliance with these standards will be verified if we are already failing with them at our own external borders. The largely unconditional cooperation in the area of migration and the allocation of funds (especially budget support directly for the state budget) without clearly defined conditions send a devastating signal. This is especially true as democratic structures are increasingly dismantled in Tunisia and basic rights of refugees in the country are not respected. The EU ("Team Europe") is obviously trying by all means to stop migration movements, although many of those seeking protection would be entitled to asylum in the EU. In particular, partners in third countries are used, because they want to achieve things that the EU states themselves are not allowed to do under human rights law – for example, disembarking shipwrecked asylum seekers in Tunisia.

In my view, one of the main criticisms of the agreement is the planned support of Tunisia in the repatriation of "irregular migrants" to their countries of origin, while at the same time a national asylum law has not been implemented in Tunisia and thus all procedures lie with the UNHCR. Instead of investing money in (ineffective) border protection and supporting an autocratic regime, efforts should rather be made to create a binding legal framework and adequate structures for protection seekers in Tunisia.

Overall, the opportunity to reach a transparent and progressive agreement that achieves a sustainable improvement in the human rights situation in Tunisia, creates legal migration channels and a joint partnership that could help end the deaths on the Mediterranean Sea has been missed here so far. While some points from the agreement are welcome, it remains to be seen whether these points will actually be implemented, as many points from such agreements have not been implemented in the past once the money-for-migration deal has worked.

Migration agreements should be discussed in parliaments and negotiated transparently. In recent years, however, governments and the EU Commission have increasingly shunned parliaments and the public when new deals are being negotiated. Where this leads has been shown in the failed EU-Turkey deal and in Libya, where, according to the UN Commission, we are now supporting smuggling structures with taxpayer money. This kind of thing should not happen again in Tunisia, but it is happening now.

One should not transfer hundreds of millions to an autocrat without having a clear plan. Tunisian President Kais Saied is engaged in a massive dismantling of democracy, spreading conspiracy theories and stirring up racist sentiment. With this deal, the EU is not only supporting an autocrat, it is also making itself vulnerable to blackmail from him. In recent weeks, evidence has mounted that Tunisia is simply abandoning refugees in the desert without water or food. Those responsible in Tunisia are accepting the death of people on the run. The EU strategy is short-sighted and naive, they believe they can buy their way out of responsibility with money. European asylum policy should not be dependent on a right-wing populist government in Italy and its good contacts with an autocrat in Tunisia. 

Question: Human trafficking by Libyan coast guard

I have asked the Commission what it thinks about the fact that the Libyan coast guard, which it supports, is itself involved in smuggling and human trafficking. This includes a person who is on the sanctions list of the United Nations Security Council. 

In its response, the Commission says that the human rights violations and conditions in detention centers in Libya are unacceptable. Nevertheless, the Commission supports the very entities that bring people to these camps. So the Commission knows that basic human rights are being violated here, but is not willing to align its policy with these basic human rights. The Commission talks about saving lives, but in most cases these are not rescue operations, but pull-backs, in which people are taken against their will to the civil war country Libya, so that they do not apply for asylum in the EU. 

The reference to the fact that the people in Libya would be even worse off without EU aid is a red herring, since my question is not about cooperation in general, but very specifically about the Libyan coast guard. The Commission’s claim that there is a “solid monitoring mechanism†is wishful thinking. The Commission supports an organization that, according to the UN, violates basic human rights and believes that it can give money to this organization without supporting the violation of basic human rights. In addition, there is a massive lack of transparency towards the parliament, because evaluations and monitoring are not disclosed. Despite repeated requests, we MEPs do not have a precise overview of the EU funds for Libya.

All my questions and the answers of the Commission can be found here.

My request

From the recent report of the independent fact-finding mission of the United Nations Human Rights Council. on Libya reveals evidence that units and members of the so-called Libyan Coast Guard are collaborating with smugglers and are themselves involved in human trafficking, particularly in the western Libyan region of Zawiya. It has been revealed that the Libyan Coast Guard in this area is in cahoots with the al-Nasr detention center in Zawiya. The unit’s commander, Abd al-Rahman al-Milad (nicknamed âBijaâ), has been on trial since June 2018 for involvement in human trafficking. United Nations Security Council Sanctions List.

1) When did the Commission learn about this and what information does it have about this collusion in the Zawiya region?

2) What action will the Commission take in response to the findings that have come to light and will this result in the cessation of cooperation with or financial support for the so-called Libyan Coast Guard? 3) What steps can we expect the Commission to take after the publication of this report with regard to Italy in light of the country’s cooperation with Libya and the so-called Libyan Coast Guard?

Answer given by Olivér Várhelyi on behalf of the European Commission (21.8.2023)

Given the complex situation in Libya, EU-funded programs in Libya are implemented according to the principle of harm reduction and with a conflict-sensitive and rights-based approach, ensuring respect for human rights and due diligence as well as restrictive measures. The Commission pays close attention to ensuring that individuals working on ther Sanctions List of the United Nations Security Council will not benefit from EU funds. EU and Italian support for the Libyan coast guard plays a crucial role in saving lives at sea. The human rights violations in Libya and the conditions in the detention centers are unacceptable.

In line with the strategic guidelines of the European Council, the Commission continues to work with the Libyan authorities to build capacity for effective border management, in line with international standards and respect for human rights, to save lives at sea and to combat smuggling and trafficking networks. Despite the difficult situation in Libya, the situation of those most in need would not improve if EU assistance in the country were to be temporarily suspended or if the EU were to withdraw from the country altogether.

The EU, together with its implementing partners, has a robust monitoring mechanism for the assistance provided to Libya. Third party monitoring is also carried out, focusing in particular on compliance with the harm reduction principle. Furthermore, the Commission carries out ad hoc evaluation and monitoring missions. As regards the provision of search and rescue vessels to the Libyan coast guard, the delivery followed the signing of an agreement between Italy and Libya, which includes guarantees for the respect of human rights and the monitoring of the use of the vessels.

5 billion € of the EU to Greece for migration and asylum – and still such conditions?

Since 2014, the European Union has provided a total of €4.96 billion to Greece to address migration and border challenges.

The European Union's support to Greece is provided through four pots: the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), the Internal Security Fund (ISF), the  Emergency Support Instrument (ESI) and the Border Management and Visa Policy Instrument (BMVI). The largest pot is the AMIF, through which a total of €9.88 billion has been made available in the current Multiannual Financial Framework. Greece has been allocated €2.75 billion from this pot since 2014. Through this budget item, EU member states are supported for the purpose of the efficient management of migration and the implementation and strengthening of the Common European Asylum System. The ISF provides money for the management of visas and entry, control of external borders, but also returns, for example through Frontex. Here, nearly half a billion € has been provided to Greece since 2014. The ESI is used to support emergencies and gives money for humanitarian aid, the share was €668.9 million. The BMVI has the task of ensuring European border protection at the external borders of the Union. Most of the regular money from AMIF, ISF, ESI and BMVI goes to the national authorities, i.e. the Greek authorities dealing with migration and asylum, such as the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum. 

In addition to the regular requirements, funds can also be mobilized from AMIF and ISF for other short-term emergency needs ("Emergency Assistance"). In the case of Greece, the funds disbursed between 2014 and 2020 from Emergency Assistance represent the largest sum of all funds, in total 2,07 € billion. 1.25 € billion of all funds of the Emergency Assistance 820 million went to international organizations and €820 million to the Greek authorities.

How much money has actually flowed?

In fact the Greek authorities received 2.59 € billion, under the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) from 2014 to 2020. In this context, it is particularly important to note that 3.38 € billion awarded were made, but a large part of it was not spent. This clearly shows that the funds available are necessary to provide adequate and dignified care for refugees on the Greek islands and on the mainland, but the political will is missingto implement it in this way. 

Basic requirements of the EU Reception Directive are still not being met in Greece, such as the right to education for children. The provision of food is also still problematic and inadequate. Enough money would actually be available to solve the problems in the long term. Even the European Court of Auditors as the EU's own authority, came in its Annual Report 2019 reached similar conclusions, without explicitly naming them as such. There was no explicit misappropriation of funds, but some funds from Emergency Assistance were misappropriated for longer-term projects and structures, although they may only be used flexibly for short-term emergency needs. In addition, the ACA criticized the inefficient use of the funds and thus the Discrepancy between EU targets and actual results – in other words, the lack of political will. Now, the money is not only going to the Greek authorities, but also to international organisations. But even more money to international organisations is not necessarily helpful if the Greek government does not support their work. blocked and criminalized, as is the case especially on the Greek islands. 

For those who would like to take a closer look at the money budgeted and flowed and the MFF 2014-2020, you can find here is an overview from the European Commission. It also presents how much money went to the different international organization as well as to which Greek authorities. 

A consideration of the Numbers makes one thing very clear again. Almost €5 billion has been allocated to Greece for migration and asylum since the summer of migration in 2015. The state authorities and organizations actually have enough resources to treat and care for people with dignity. But it seems politically undesirable. How much money will actually be drawn down under the current financial framework remains to be seen.

Question: Is the Commission ready to act after the cover-up of the Crotone accident?

On June 14, I sent a question to the European Commission, which was supported by 25 MEPs from four political groups. The Commission does not answer my questions and excuses itself with the fact that it does not want to comment on ongoing investigations.

My request

From joint research by Lighthouse ReportsEl PaÃs, Sky News, Le Monde, Süddeutsche Zeitung and Domani, the Italian government lied about its role in the Crotone boat accident that killed 94 people, including 35 children, and that Frontex helped cover up the incident. In its reply to our previous written question, the Commission stated that âSearchâ and rescue operations […] are an obligation of the Member States under national law.â. Furthermore, the Commission pointed out that it does not consider a search and rescue mechanism coordinated by the Union necessary.

  • 1)What action does the Commission intend to take following this chain of catastrophic errors, and what consequences will Italy and Frontex face?
  • 2)What has the Commission done in the Frontex Management Board to clarify this misconduct by Frontex?

Answer given by Ylva Johansson on behalf of the European Union (3.08.2023)

The Commission is aware that the Italian authorities have launched an investigation to obtain relevant information on the shipwreck. While the Commission cannot comment on or prejudge the outcome of an ongoing investigation, it continues to urge all actors involved in search and rescue operations to act lawfully, swiftly and in a coordinated manner to ensure that people in distress at sea are brought to safety as quickly as possible.

The Commission and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) regularly exchange views, including through the Commission representatives on the Management Board of the Agency. The Commission recalls that at the joint meeting of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality and the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs on 24 May 2023, the Executive Director of Frontex explained in detail Frontex’s actions in relation to the tragic incident in Crotone. In this meeting, the Italian Coast Guard also stated that the investigation of the incident is still ongoing. The Commission expects that the results of the investigation will be communicated to the Board as soon as they are available.

3) As the third question, concerning the assessment of the facts by Frontex, falls entirely within the competence of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), the Commission has asked the Agency to provide the information requested by the Honourable Members. The Commission will provide the Honourable Members with the Agency's reply as soon as possible.

Question to the Commission on EU-funded detention center in Bosnia

On April 19, I sent the following question to the Commission. The Commission has again taken more time than it should to reply. In the meantime Bosnian politician announces end of prison facilitybecause there is no legal basis for it. My question about the problematic wording of the Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi is simply ignored by him.

My request

In November 2022, Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi visited Bosnia and Herzegovina and announced that an additional EUR 500,000 will be used for the Lipa camp and detention center in order to âfake asylum seekersâ can be imprisoned[1]until they are returned to their countries of origin. The EU Special Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Johann Sattler, on the other hand, said last weekthat people may be detained there for a maximum of 72 hours. The EU funds for Lipa come from the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA).

The cantonal authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina state that the construction permit for the detention center in Lipa camp was never issued. The Prime Minister of Una-Sana Canton publicly expresses his concern about the lack of information about the object. Please answer the following questions individually.

  • 1.What is the Commission's view of the term âfake asylum seekersâ and how do they differ from âcorrectâ asylum seekers?
  • How many people can be detained in the Lipa camp and for what purpose, and how is it ensured that the money is not used for the detention of persons previously illegally deported from the EU by Croatian authorities?
  • the Commission's view, is the treatment of persons in the Lipa camp in accordance with EU and international law?

Answer given by Olivér Várhelyi on behalf of the European Commission (2.08.2023)

It is one of the priorities of the EU, in accordance with international law, the principles and values of the EU and the protection of fundamental rights, as stated in the letters of the President of the Commission to the Council, The recent conclusions of the European Council and the EU Action Plan for the Western Balkans. Improve border management, ensure faster asylum procedures, combat migrant smuggling, and promote cooperation on readmission and return in order to counter irregular migration via the Western Balkan route.

The multifunctional reception and identification center in Lipa serves several purposes: Migrants are registered, their status is determined, and their identity is verified upon arrival and departure from the center. The center has significantly improved conditions for migrants and averted another humanitarian crisis, like the one in the winter of 2020â2021. At that time, several migrants were stranded without shelter in devastating conditions. The center is under the authority of the Foreigners Authority of the Ministry of Security of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and can accommodate up to 1,500 people.

The new detention facility in Lipa will be a separate and fully self-contained facility that can accommodate up to twelve persons. In certain cases, in line with international standards and the EU acquis, temporary restrictions on freedom of movement and detention measures can be introduced here before the persons concerned are transferred to the immigration center in Lukavica (East Sarajevo). The Law on Foreigners (âZakon o strancimaâ) of BiH defines the circumstances under which the restriction of free movement can be approved. As immigration centers must comply with BiH legislation and international humanitarian standards, the EU regularly seeks information from authorities and partners on the management of the centers and frequently conducts on-site visits.

European Parliament calls for sea rescue mission in the Mediterranean Sea

Finally! The EU Parliament has in a resolution clearly spoken out in favor of an EU sea rescue mission. In addition, we demand, among other things, that information about sea rescue cases be shared immediately, that the criminalization of sea rescue organizations be refrained from and that ships be allowed into the next safe port after sea rescues.
I negotiated the resolution for our group and even if we cannot immediately force the Member States to implement the measures, it is a clear sign of where the majority in Europe stands.

The deaths in the Mediterranean cannot be tolerated any longer.

I took the cover photo on a sea rescue mission after we gave people life jackets. Often on the overcrowded inflatable boats you can hardly see a piece of boat – only dozens of people in acute danger of their lives. This reality that every day is decided on life or death of many people at our external borders and the decision is too often that people just have to die in case of doubt, that must never become normal. But it has become normal and we have to change that again. Parliament's decision unfortunately does not bring about any concrete change, because Parliament cannot decide on operations and has only very limited powers in this area. But it does increase the pressure on the heads of state and government and sends a clear signal against right-wing populism.

Here are some of the demands from the resolution

  • We call for an EU maritime rescue mission.
  • Member States and the EU should finally comply with applicable international law and come to the aid of people in distress at sea.
  • We demand that the Commission creates a new, reliable and sustainable approach that ensures sea rescue and that we are no longer constantly dependent on ad-hoc solutions. The Commission should provide material, financial and operational support for this.
  • Member States and Frontex should proactively operate search and rescue missions and provide or deploy all necessary and available boats and equipment to save lives.
  • All Mediterranean states and Frontex should share or provide information on sea emergencies to ensure rescue.
  • Rescued people should be assigned to the nearest safe haven.
  • The Commission should set up a sea rescue contact group to coordinate missions by Frontex and member states and regularly inform the Parliament about it.
  • Frontex should share information about its operations and comply with Union law, just as member states do.
  • The Commission must ensure that Frontex and Member States only enter safe ports after rescue and do not expose asylum seekers to danger.
  • The dead of Pylos should be recovered, identified, their relatives informed and more bodies searched for. The survivors must be distributed in solidarity in the EU.
  • We advocate that safe escape routes are the best way to prevent deaths and therefore call for humanitarian corridors.

Here you can find the complete text on german and english.

Exhibition: "1000 Dreams"- Refugees portray refugees 

At the beginning of the July plenary week, in cooperation with Witness Change and the Heinrich Böll Foundation Thessaloniki opened a photo exhibition of individual stories of refugees in the Parliament. 

Against the backdrop of the current debates on the reform of the EU asylum system, it is important to keep reminding that behind technical discussions on refugee numbers, distribution mechanisms and border procedures are individual people who will be directly affected by these decisions. Many people in Europe rarely come into contact with refugees. Our views of them are often formed from what we hear, read, or see from others, as well as from media coverage and social media. In doing so, we must make an effort to listen to refugees. 

1000 Dreams

This is where the project "1000 Dreams" From Witness Change an. Refugees should have their say and tell their stories. Refugees should not be seen as a homogeneous group, but as individuals with talents, dreams and needs. More than 50 storytellers with a refugee background have already taken part in workshops in Athens, Lesbos and London, among other places. In workshops, they practice taking portraits and conducting interviews. All photo shoots and interviews that make up 1000 Dreams are thus conducted and created by refugees with refugees. Over 800 contributions and portraits have been created in this way so far. It should become 1000. In Strasbourg we have exhibited 20. 

Exhibition Strasbourg

For the opening, storytellers Zahra Mojahed, Elsayed Elsehamy Abdelhamid and Mirza Durakovic came to Strasbourg to share their personal life stories and tell us about their work on the project. For Witness Change, founder Robin Hammond and William Lounsbury as director of the 1000 Dreams project were present to open the exhibition together with Neda Noraie-Kia and Chrysiis Katsea from the Heinrich Böll Foundation Thessaloniki and me. 

After the official opening, all guests and attendees had the opportunity to get to know the individual portraits and stories behind the photographs, as well as the storytellers and project initiators. 

In addition to the exhibition in the Parliament, the 20 portraits will also be on display for a few weeks in Strasbourg City Hall.

Study: Legal vacuum – Criminalization of refugees in Greece

The study is in german, English and greek Language available.

The study I commissioned from Borderline Europe analyzes the criminalization of refugees as suspected smugglers in Greece. 

Trials last an average of 37 minutes, with the average prison sentence being 46 years. Most individuals are convicted based on the testimony of a police or coast guard person, who in 68 percent of cases is not even present during the proceedings. Persons convicted of smuggling are the second largest group in Greek prisons. These individuals are usually arrested immediately upon arrival, held in pre-trial detention for months, and have very limited opportunities to defend themselves

The judiciary is politically instrumentalized

These sentences are disproportionate and have no comprehensible connection to the crime of which the people are accused. The Greek judiciary is being politically instrumentalized to deter people from fleeing.

The people who drive the boat get discounts from the tugboats, they are mostly not tugboats themselves. The proceedings in which these accusations are heard are very short and violate basic standards of the rule of law. This is an infamous criminalization that the EU Commission and member states like Germany should take action against. 

It would be the task of the EU Commission to exert pressure on Greece so that rule-of-law standards are once again upheld there. Unfortunately, the Commission has so far sided with Greece. It supports the policy of deterrence and isolation of the external border states and looks the other way when people are mistreated there and deprived of their fundamental rights. 

81 Procedure observed

Those affected are usually arrested immediately upon arrival, held in pre-trial detention for months, and have very limited opportunities to defend themselves and receive assistance. The trials in which these charges are heard are very short and violate basic standards of fairness.

The report examines a total of 81 cases against 95 people arrested and tried for smuggling in Greece in eight different locations, namely Komotini, Thessaloniki, Rhodes, Samos, Lesvos, Crete, Syros and Kalamata.

The event to present the study will take place her here.

Study on the criminalization of refugees in Greece

Refugees in Greece are declared to be smugglers and sentenced to years of imprisonment in proceedings questionable under the rule of law because they are accused of steering a boat or driving a car. 

We commissioned Borderline-Europe to analyze in a study how the reality looks like in the fight against "trafficking in human beings" and came across a lawless space in which arbitrary justice is carried out in order to deter other people from fleeing. The observation of 81 trials with 95 persons involved has brought to light frightening findings. 

Refugees are criminalized and sentenced to long prison terms because they are accused of smuggling; and this only because they are accused of having crossed the border by boat or car. Most people are sentenced on the basis of the testimony of a police or coast guard person, who in 68 percent of cases is not even present during the proceedings. A trial lasts an average of 37 minutes, with an average prison sentence of 46 years. Due to the lack of translation, the convicts often do not even directly understand what they have just been sentenced to and for. 

Those affected are usually arrested immediately upon arrival, held in pre-trial detention for months, and have very limited opportunities to defend themselves and receive assistance. The proceedings in which these charges are tried are very short and violate basic standards of fairness and the rule of law. As a result, persons convicted of smuggling constitute the second largest group in Greek prisons.

We invite you to take a closer look at the results of our study, which legal framework makes this possible and what this means for the rights of refugees. Together we want to discuss possible consequences and solutions against criminalization.


Project Together, Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse 34, 10178 Berlin

Date and time: 


19.30 – 21.30 pm 

Link to the event

Registration closed on site.

Expert opinion: Council position on the CEAS does not meet human rights requirements

This short report analyzes by way of example why selected new regulations on the Common European Asylum System, as also advocated by the German government, do not meet the requirements of fundamental, human rights and EU law. The regulations on legal protection and the concept of safe third countries do not meet the requirements. A border procedure at the internal border is not possible; even at the external border, such a procedure is always accompanied by detentions and makes violations of fundamental rights and human rights almost unavoidable even beyond that point. You can find the short report here.

The main results at a glance

  1. Insofar as an area of Union law is harmonized, the Federal Constitutional Court also measures Member State conduct against the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and not against the Basic Law. The monopoly on the rejection of Union law rests with the European Court of Justice.
  2. The fact that the planned appeal against the rejection of an application for international protection in the new draft of the Asylum Procedure Regulation does not have any suspensive effect violates the provisions of Article 13 ECHR and Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which in the established case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union require an appeal with automatic suspensive effect.
  3. The application of the safe third country concept must always follow a case-by-case assessment.
  4. A third country cannot be considered safe if guarantees guaranteed by the Geneva Convention on Refugees (Refugee Convention) apply only in a partial area, because the Convention requires precisely the gradual inclusion in the legal system of the signatory state in the entire territory of the state in the sense of the principle of equal treatment and requires in particular the freedom of movement in its entire territory.
  5. A correspondence of the CSF standards alone "in substance" in the classification of a safe third country is incompatible with the protection concept of the CSF, since the status rights under the CSF are legally mandatory and may not be undercut.
  6. In the border procedure, Member States are fully bound by fundamental and human rights, because they exercise effective control over persons.
  7. Both the screening procedure and the border procedure presuppose a refusal of entry because they must take place before entry. Such a refusal of entry is not possible at the internal border, which is why the non-entry fiction and with it the border procedure are also excluded.
  8. A border procedure necessarily takes place before entry, so the possible places where such a procedure can take place are limited. Therefore, procedures must take place in a narrowly localized area, so that border procedures without deprivation of liberty (= detention) should not be possible according to the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights. The regulatory system of the Common European Asylum System is also based on this.
  9. Even where border procedures do not directly violate fundamental and human rights, they make rights violations particularly likely because basic standards such as legal protection and humane accommodation cannot be met in camps at the external border.
  10. The EU's Fundamental Rights Agency also considers the human rights challenges in external border camps "almost insurmountable."
  11. Effective legal protection is, according to the Court of Justice of the European Union and in the light of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, on the one hand necessary for the protection of the individual, and on the other hand also necessary to ensure the functioning of the system and to guarantee a legally correct implementation of the legal requirements - and as a result the rule of law.